It’s the last day of the year, and I’m going to do a little recapping of what happened to me in my little world during the previous 364 days.
This post is intended to be personal. It’s part of a years-long tradition partly for you to know that this website, as well as the man behind it, is as real as the tech information it provides.
In a sentence, 2023 was challenging, but it also left long-lasting, wonderful memories.
If you read my year-end take on 2022, you’d already know how that year ended for us with a significant health scare — our then 13-month-old baby boy was in and out of the ICU a couple of times.
His fragile health continued to haunt us for most of 2023. But we had a great time, too.
Let’s start with a high note.
2023: An eventful year
We started the year by taking a last-minute week-long vacation in late January. It was our oldest daughter’s 7th birthday, and most importantly, we wanted a real break from up-to-then a very harsh COVID-19 time, plus the cold weather.
We took the kids to the Battleship Missouri, visited our favorite Byodo-In Temple temple, swam in the ocean and played with the sand literally every day, and ate lots of local street food — I’d recommend the coconut shrimp.
The week passed by like a dream. During the entire time, we always had the little boy’s health in the back of our minds, but as the vacation progressed, things only seemed better. In fact, the little guy had the best time. I even took him and his older siblings multiple snorkel rides in shallow waters, and we saw lots of fish and a few turtles. Lots of laughter and zero tears.
During our last dinner on the island, surrounded by happy and healthy kids, my wife told me (or maybe it was I who told her), “Looks like we made it”. We opened a nice bottle of wine to celebrate, and I finished it before going to sleep at 1 am, thinking, “Yeah, we made it! And we totally deserved it.”
There was no rush. We didn’t have to check out of the place until 11 am, and our flight back home was at 1 pm. The airport is just an hour away.
It was another last-minute thing
Alas! We celebrated too early. At 4 am that night, possibly right in the middle of my REM cycle, my wife woke me up. It happened again!
Out of the blue, the little boy struggled to breathe. The nebulizer and inhalers we brought along didn’t help. We had no choice but to take him to the ER — for the third time within four months.
The closest hospital was in Honolulu, over an hour away. We got up, packed the rental car, moved the sleepy big kids to the back seats, and drove to the Kapiʻolani Medical Center.
It was the most brutal hour-long drive. I was so tired and sleepy that my eyes were blurry. To make matters worse, upon getting up, I grabbed my glasses in a hurry and smeared the lenses with my fingers. But we managed to get there at around 5:30 am.
As my wife and the little boy were rushed to the ER, I was left with a dilemma: the facility wouldn’t allow the other two kids to stay by themselves in the waiting room, and I couldn’t leave them in the car in the parking lot, and there were a couple of things my wife needed from the vehicle. That’s not to mention the kids themselves were really tired. It was chaotic.
Fortunately, at one point, a nurse offered to watch the kids for a few minutes so I could get a couple of things done, including figuring out the logistics of what to do next.
Long story short, per my wife’s suggestion, I ended up flying home with the two big kids later that day as scheduled, leaving her and the little boy behind. There was no other option considering the situation. It was two of us vs. three of them, none could be left alone, and we had no friends around.
It was the saddest flight home for us three, and the next couple of days were challenging for everyone, to say the least. But we made it through.
A couple of weeks after returning home from Hawaii, we had to take the little boy to the ER for the fourth time due to the same out-of-the-blue severe breathing issue.
It was “easier” since we’re on the home turf, and this time around, he didn’t have to stay overnight. The doctor said he was getting better and that, chances are, by the time he turned two years old, he would grow out of it. (I wanted to believe so, anyway.)
His birthday is in November. And the year proved to be long. Stuff kept happening.
A car accident and a strange break-in experience
In mid-March, after dropping off the big kids at the school, on the way back with the little guy in the backseat, my wife got into an accident.
A Ford F150 truck, making a hasty left turn, crashed into her car and pinned it against a parked car. It took a while, with the help of the truck driver and pedestrians, before they could get out. Thank goodness everyone walked away, but the car — her beloved Subaru Outback — was totaled. (The truck only had a few minor scratches on its front tires and bumper.)
The event was so scary it was followed by lots of tears and many sleepless nights.
And then it was my turn. On a Saturday in mid-July, I was on the way home from a job and, quite stupidly, left my work laptop in the trunk. Initially, I thought I’d go straight home but ended up making a quick five-minute stop to grab some groceries per my wife’s request. It was a few minutes too long.
I left the store to find my car broken into — they smashed the rear window — and the laptop was gone. The whole thing took less than 30 seconds, including the time for the guy to inspect the trunk through the tinted glass, as you can see in the video below.
But the story didn’t end there.
The following Monday, I took the car to the body shop assigned by the insurance company for the adjuster to look at it. As she was walking around my car to inspect the damage and take pictures, she looked across the street and froze there for a long 15 or so seconds, as though she had some sort of medical emergency. As I was about to call 911, she raised her hand, pointing to a street corner half a block away, and said, “My car…”.
As it turned out, her car, which she had parked there a couple of hours ago, had been stolen. “It was there just a few minutes ago. I have to pick up my kids later,” she said in a shaky voice.
I didn’t know how to feel. I was there expecting sympathy and help for my misfortune. Instead, I realized she was in a much worse situation. “I hope you have insurance,” I said and gave her a hug. She did.
Our first trip to Vietnam
During the summer break, we decided to go to Vietnam. (Originally, I’m from a village in the North, about 75 miles from Hanoi.)
Due to the pandemic, it was our first international trip in six years, and it would be my two boys’ first trip to the country. Among other things, I wanted to show them the village where I grew up.
We landed in Hanoi mid-day, right in the middle of summer during the hottest week in years, with triple-digit temperatures and humidity over 90%.
It was so hot I started to sweat the moment I got out of the airplane and entered the jet bridge, and I didn’t stop perspiring until we got to our air-conditioned rental apartment in the middle of the modern part of Hanoi.
We moved in and out quite a bit during our stay, and the acute change between the extreme heat outside and the AC indoor environment had some effects on the olfactory system. Everyone was sneezing a bit, including the little guy.
One night, traumatized by past experiences, my wife decided to use the nebulizer on him “just to be sure”. Unfortunately, she plugged the machine — made for the North American market, which uses 110V current — into a 240V outlet. It caught fire immediately and melted before the breaker kicked in. The smell of burnt plastic caused everyone to feel a little sick.
The next day, we took the kid to the hospital in Hanoi for a checkup, and he was fine.
But the heat had its rewards. It was the best time to enjoy Bia Hơi, which I did almost daily. Often with friends and a few times alone. There’s nothing better than sweating all day and getting replenished with a couple of refreshing glasses. And I have to admit, there was something romantic about sitting there alone with the beer itself.
And, of course, nothing beats the street food of Hanoi. Vietnam is the only country in the world I’ve been to where food is never an issue. There are always so many options, and most, if not all, of them are amazing.
Still, after six years and the pandemic, the country has changed so much. In more ways than one, it was no longer the Vietnam I knew.
The day we went back to my birth village, I got lost. Literally, all the landmarks I knew had gone, replaced by paved roads, buildings, factories, modern homes, and restaurants. The only thing left was the temple at one end of the village. Without it, I wouldn’t have known where I was.
There were no paddy fields or farm animals I could see. Not even a buffalo or a pig. So much for showing my kids how life used to be.
But we had a great time. After a week, I was brave enough to even take the kids out for scooter rides in the busy streets of Hanoi, where you generally move around using feelings and intuition rather than following traffic laws.
Besides Hanoi, we managed to go to Halong Bay and visit Danang. Both were incredible. If you ever go to Vietnam, I’d recommend Halong Bay and the stretch in the middle of the country from Hue to Nha Trang. Before that, maybe give Hanoi for a day or two for the Bia Hoi.
2023: Pink eye and the happy ending
The months went by, and the boy’s 2nd birthday fast approached, all without another ER trip. It seemed the doctor was right.
But a week before his actual birthday in mid-November, he caught pink eye from his older siblings (who got them from their schoolmates), which lasted for 10 days. And when he was done with it, like a mean prank, it was my turn. I got it on Thanksgiving morning.
And then, after that, collectively, all of us were sick. Food allergies, pink eye, common cold, and whatnot. It was looking like we’d be unhealthy for the rest of the year.
But three days before Christmas, like a miracle, all of us got over the plague. For the first time in months, we felt the way we did when we landed in Hawaii in January, just in time for the family Christmas photo, as you’ll see below.
As I’m typing these last sentences of the year, which is about to end happily, I realize that it’s the struggles that make life wonderful. It’s about picking the battle we can manage. And with hard work, lots of love, and some luck, we can handle a lot.
I’m looking forward to what 2024 will bring.
Happy New Year, everyone! May 2024 bring us love, peace, and the type of adventure that makes us stronger!
And thank you for your support! Your donations, subscriptions, and, most importantly, your appreciation of honest, factual information have been a massive encouragement for me to keep this website going. And it will get better without ever losing the 100% no-nonsense promise. That is a promise.